08 December 2011

After Pearl Harbor, Part One - 7/8 December 1941

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It also marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Japanese invasions of Thailand, Malaya, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Guam and Wake Island.

When the Japanese launched that six-carrier strike on Oahu, it was only the first attack of a major offensive of the size and scope that even Hitler never tried to pull off.

Three days after the attack, the only two remaining Allied capital ships in the Western Pacific, the British battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse were sunk by a Japanese air strike. The still operational capital ships in the entirety of the Pacific were the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, heading back for California. Winston Churchill himself described it as the biggest shock he had in the entire war.

The Japanese aim was to create a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" basically a massive empire with rich resources and plenty of small islands they could use as airbases. Those islands, places like Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Saipan would become household names, small rocks in the ocean that were worth little apart from their location.

In the six months that followed, Japan almost achieved its goal - it got to within bombing range of Northern Australia, was banging on the door of British-controlled India and even took some of the Aleutian Islands, the chain of islands running west from Alaska. Only one event really stopped them - the Battle of Midway.

The next four parts of this will explore the early defeats of the Allies - Philippines, Malaya and Burma, as well as rightly one of the most renowned carrier battles in history. It will also look at the crimes committed by Japan - for Pearl Harbor was but one day of infamy among almost a decade.

Part Two

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some light reading for those interested, "The First 24 Hours of War in the Pacific" by Donald Young.